/ 26 November 2007

Darkness in the corporate heart

The bigots never tire. For many years they have sought to justify colonialism and slavery in their noble quest to bring civilisation to the heart of darkness.

Last week they were at it again. This time their target was Jimmy Manyi, the employment equity commission chairperson. The bigots accuse him of double standards because he works for a company accused of colluding in bread price-fixing.

Just as they see hypocrisy in the fact that those who criticise colonialism do so using colonial language and enjoying the trappings they see as the colonialists’ prerogative — such as using computers or driving in automobiles — they think Manyi is ill qualified to talk about transformation of the workplace.

Manyi’s detractors honestly seem to believe that had it not been for them and their ancestors as well as the health benefits they brought, the natives would still be running around in loincloths, chasing after wild animals for their next meal. Their lives would be short and brutish because they would be dying of easily preventable diseases. This contradicts their own version of how, until the Crimean War, going into a Western hospital was an act either of recklessness or great bravery.

Manyi, who is also the president of the Black Management Forum, has been unsparing against organisations he sees as paying lip service to transformation of their boardrooms or that are plainly racist in their approach to employment equity.

But Manyi, to the bigots’ eternal chagrin, happens to work for the food company that was fined R99-million last week for its part in fixing the price of bread.

Bigots somehow figured that his work address delegitimises the campaign to redress apartheid-era workplace inequalities.

For them, Manyi is just another instigator. He is a loose cannon who wants to upset their wonderful relations with ”their” blacks. He is ruining everything.

Even if Manyi were personally implicated — he is not — in the bread price-fixing scandal it would be a grave mistake to see the struggle against workplace injustice as a one-man show.

Manyi may be the most vociferous, but he is certainly not the first, nor will he be the last, to raise a stink when apparent black incompetence and the subsequent need for white overseers continues to be the accepted corporate norm.

It is not too difficult to find examples of how easy it is to impugn the reputation and competence of black executives. Barloworld recently succumbed to pressure from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and appointed advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza as chairperson, but then decided to appoint Trevor Munday as a deputy, despite the fact that the previous chairperson had not needed such help.

In his resignation statement, Munday wanted us to believe that the likes of Manyi were held back by an ignorance of the skills required for corporate leadership.

”I understand the transformational role that the PIC has publicly chosen as an agent for change in corporate South Africa. I strongly support and encourage this role, although respectfully appeal for the manner in which it is discharged to be more sensitive, and for due cognisance also to be given to relevant experience and skills required of corporate leaders serving the multiplicity of industries making up our economy,” Munday said.

Last week Peter Moyo resigned from Alexander Forbes. As nobody is talking, your guess about why he quit or what the parties mean by ”irreconcilable differences” is as good as mine. In the ever-tense world of corporate politics, mergers and acquisitions, it is a real possibility that Moyo was ousted by the new owners, seeking a different approach to business.

What is not in dispute though is that in September Alexander Forbes appointed an executive chairperson, Bruce Campbell, effectively making him, with Moyo, the other bull in the kraal. Talk is that Campbell will double as CEO and chairperson when the company announces its new structure. If this happens, I am certain I am not the only one who will wonder why, under Moyo’s leadership, there was a need for a CEO and an executive chairperson.

If Moyo and Ntsebeza can be treated in this manner when the outspoken Manyi is around, can you imagine how many others without such significant public profiles are being treated?

Instead of wasting their energies and time beating up the straw man they have created, bigots must realise that the struggle to transform South African society is not going to go away. They must have learnt by now that they were sold a dummy when their protectors told them that all was well in South Africa except for a few instances of communist agitation.

They must know that even if they were to say that Jimmy Manyi himself does not hire enough blacks, the struggle for which he is a mouthpiece is much bigger than he is. If we did not have a Jimmy Manyi saying the things he is saying, one would have to be born.